Having posted accounts of first impressions of Indonesia from long-term expats three times - (Rien ça change .... c'est toujours .... et la même chose), I thought I'd round off this mini-series by asking a 'newbie', D, for his take. His observations as a youngish single bloke will be familiar to many of my local readers here or - unashamed plug ahoy - of Culture Shock! Jakarta.
What was your first 'what the ...?' moment?
Actually I had one even before I arrived. At Dubai airport, waiting for the connection to Jakarta, I sat near over a hundred headscarved young Indonesian women munching their way through various food items. As soon as it was announced that the gate was open, they all raced and jostled for the doorway, leaving in their wake what I can only describe as a rubbish dump. I really wondered at that point what I was letting myself in for.
The most memorable ones since include the following: - an old well-dressed man with bricks in his hands threatening terrified bajaj drivers. - the National Museum of Indonesia being closed daily as early as 2pm yet at least ten museum staff milling around outside. - the unique hot kretek-durian-exhaust odour that hits you on disembarkation at the airport - not-so-subtle (sexual favours) being provided in a public Blok M bar. - a mother trying to sell her nervous daughter to me in a similar bar. - a friend telling me he'd taken seven women back to his place and that it was "chaos". - watching an 80-year old on Jl. Jaksa bargain for a ladyfriend young enough to be his grand-daughter and then keeping on bumping into them, her dressed (presumably by him) like a middle-class Western pensioner, in a certain eatery close by.
Last week, a colleague at work pointed out a strange looking chap loitering in the shallow river near my office. He seemed to be gardening, pulling weeds out of the banks. But, as my colleague said, "Back in Britain, you'd know he was weeding, that would be the explanation. But here, there's bound to be some other peculiar reason why he's down there". (Possibly he was getting some vitamin-rich greens for his rice and tempeh - soya bean cake. J)
How difficult has it been it to hang onto your culture?
With the internet and googlemail chat, it has been fairly straightforward. I'm not a huge fan of contemporary British culture in any case. Despite being on the other side of the world, I do admit to being incredibly angry about pretty much every aspect of British government, the world of work, the music industry and the vile financial services universe. I ought to just be happy to be away from all that.
What do you miss most from 'home'?
Macaroni cheese pies, curry sauce 'n' chips, mushy peas, regional accents, regional bitter, proper Guinness, nice sandstone buildings, a clean kitchen, the seasons, solitude, crackly vinyl, an open fire, the smell of freshly-cut grass, wandering or driving across northern landscapes, chilly mornings and clear visibility, Have I Got News For You? (The last is, I think, a BBC radio programme. J)
Have you joined any 'expat' clubs? If so, which ones?
Java Lava, for clambering around volcanoes. A good, and varied, bunch.
Do you seek out other expats on a similar wavelength to you?
In a casual sort of way, although it's also interesting to meet the ones who are on very different wavelengths.
What problems do you still have coping with?
One problem is attitudes to problems. Problems here are only fixed when it's too late - there is little forward planning to prevent things from going wrong, and lessons are rarely learnt. A lot of people here seemingly prefer to have very short-term goals and then have to suffer the consequences.
The other main issue I have problems with is that of religious belief. The unbiased, neutral, original viewpoint must be that of either atheism or agnosticism. The onus is on believers to show some evidence of what they believe rather than criticizing (or worse) people who do not share their belief. I've never heard of a bunch of atheists blowing up a mosque because of a difference in belief. Generally speaking, the population has not yet properly embraced either modern science or critical thought. A Middle Ages-esque system of beliefs is prevalent.
Hopefully the vast amount of information available on the internet will slowly help matters but, what with the emphasis on consensus decision-making, there is still a long way to go.
I'm still an Englishman at core - I recently nodded off in a minibus whilst travelling near Garut and on waking, momentarily forgetting I was in Indonesia, and looking at the market outside I wondered "What the hell is going on?" It took a good minute to realize.